12th December 2013 Written by Skills for Health & Ian Wheeler

In this month's blog, we interview Ian Wheeler, Head of Research, LMI and Evaluation at Skills for Health in advance of the publication of a new report on management and leadership in the health sector to gain a 'sneak preview' of the key findings:

What did you set out to achieve with the report?

The study set out to explore the theme of management and leadership in healthcare, against a backdrop of growing demand with limited resources for the those working in the sector, as well as intensified public scrutiny. Specifically, it seeks to answer a number of key questions including:

  1. Are managers in the health sector more or less skilled than their counterparts in other areas of the economy?
  2. Does the sector have too many managers – as is often perceived by the general public?
  3. How effective is the management and leadership in the health sector?

Why is management and leadership so important?

The issue of management and leadership is a key area of debate for all sectors of the economy – and it is particularly relevant for the health sector during a time of significant structural change. The nature of the healthcare system is complex, primarily made up of large organisations delivering a diverse array of services. Undoubtedly, good management of both people and resource is likely to mean that performance and productivity is higher. Leadership is equally important. Without effective leadership, organisations will move too slowly, stagnate and lose direction.

Can you give us an insight into some of the key findings?

One of the most compelling pieces of evidence from this report is that managers in the health sector are in fact more highly qualified than in other areas of the UK economy. Only 15% of managerial and professional staff in the UK do not hold a Level 4 qualification, compared to an all economy average of 39%1. The report also includes strong evidence that the UK's health sector is not 'over-managed' if we make comparisons with the rest of the UK economy.

Does the report raise any concerns?

Despite these positive findings, there are concerns within the sector itself and amongst important stakeholders that management and leadership in the health sector is not as effective as it should be.

The report points to the prevailing negative views among employers, politicians and the wider public that the sector is deficient in skills – an attitude which coupled with the continued public scrutiny of decision making does little to progress management and leadership in the sector.

The need to engage and negotiate with powerful stakeholder groups including professional bodies, royal colleges, regulators, politicians, patient groups, local authorities and trade unions is also a key challenge.

What do you is the future for management and leadership in the NHS?

It is evident from the report that there is no "magic bullet" to improve management and leadership in the sector. However, in an industry that is in a state of continual development, it is possible to forecast that those initiatives focusing on a collaborative approach will provide a significant offer to the sector's future.

Ultimately, managers and leaders will continue to seek collaborative and creative solutions to what are difficult and pressing issues. However, it is vital that managers and leaders in the sector are free to make the best decisions without fear – difficult with an industry currently very much "in the spotlight".

The full report is due to be published online in late December – when you can download a free copy of Skills for Health's report 'Management and Leadership, The Key Debates regarding management and leadership in the health sector'


1. ONS (2010) Labour Force Survey